AOTA Discussing Rehabilitation Research With National Leaders

Staff Report

Members of the occupational therapy profession often discuss among themselves the need to build a strong body of evidence.

But earlier this month, AOTA staff and prominent occupational therapy practitioners had opportunities to talk with very important leaders outside of the OT profession about the value of rehabilitation research, including the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And they will have a second opportunity on June 25 when AOTA and the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) co-host a Congressional briefing meant to highlight the return on investment for rehabilitation research.

“These opportunities have come out of a deliberate focus by AOTA on research, evidence, and promoting science in the profession. To be able to share the successes of occupational therapy scientists with the head of the world’s premier health research institution brings the profession into the spotlight,” says Christina Metzler, AOTA’s Chief Public Affairs officer. “The imperative to provide evidence for outcomes as well as evidence for appropriate interventions is making scientific research more and more important. Supporting scientific inquiry is fundamental to promoting distinct value.”

On Friday, June 13, Metzler, Carolyn Baum, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, and other representatives of the organizations in the Disability and Rehabilitation Research Coalition met with NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Director Dr. Alan Guttmacher, who is responsible for the National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR), to discuss the importance of rehabilitation research.

The meeting provided a platform to discuss the state of rehabilitation research at NIH, and the successes attributable to NCMRR as well as possibilities for improving the profile and outcomes of rehabilitation science. The scientists from occupational therapy, physical therapy, and other professions emphasized the need for greater focus, attention, and investment in rehabilitation science at NIH and across all federal agencies.

Some of the specific items brought forth include the need for:

  • Stronger coordination of rehabilitation science across NIH, with NCMRR playing a more central role.
  • Development of a comprehensive plan by the NCMRR director in conjunction with the Standing Coordination Committee and the National Advisory Board on Medical Rehabilitation Research for the conduct, support, and coordination of medical rehabilitation research. (While statute requires the research plan to be periodically updated, it’s not been revisited in a very long time.)
  • Stakeholder input and guidelines to accompany proposed plans for NCMRR’s operation. 

“We gave them data that demonstrated the scientific value of inquiries into rehabilitation. Dr. Collins recognized future links with the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative NeurotechnologiesSM (BRAIN) project,” Baum says. “But they were really impressed with how many developing scientists in OT and PT NCMRR has supported who are now receiving their own NIH grants. This shows we can develop the talent to be major contributors to health inquiry.”

At the meeting, Collins and Guttmacher pledged to keep an open channel of communication with the group and helped give a sense of what changes might be accomplished administratively versus via an act of Congress.

The important dialogue about rehabilitation research will continue on June 25, when AOTA co-hosts a Congressional briefing with APTA in the Rayburn House Office Building. Practitioners are encouraged to follow the briefing using the hashtag #RehabResearch. Additionally, practitioners should contact their local representatives to encourage them to attend. 

The briefing will involve:

  • The Congressional Neuroscience Caucus (Co-Chairs: Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
  • The Congressional Military Family Caucus (Co-Chairs: Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) and Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA)
  • The Bipartisan Disability Caucus (Co-Chairs: Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI)

Elizabeth Skidmore, PhD, OTR/L, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh who maintains active research agendas addressing the concerns of the occupational therapy community, will address attendees.

“We hope to impress upon Congressional staff the value of OT research and its translational value for the broader health care system—promoting wellness and function, and preventing more costly episodes and readmissions,” says Tim Casey, AOTA’s director of Federal Affairs. “If possible, we want them to understand that finding innovative therapies can be a cost savings to our health care system and lead to a more productive workforce.”